👋🏻 Helen here with our weekly installment of Mind the Beet. Fall is here, Halloween decorations are up and this means the holiday season is just around the corner. As the season of thanks and gift giving runs toward us, I reflect on the shift in gift giving that I am experiencing and my pull toward more experiential and sentimental vs. material ones (though there is definitely still a time and a place for both as I discuss at the end).
My dad once told me that he’d never get someone a gift that they would get themselves. His lesson was to strike a good balance of whimsy, delight and practicality when you choose a gift.
Below is a list of gifts that I have enjoyed giving and receiving to family, friends, fellow parents, and coworkers.
Sentimental gifts for family members
As the years go by, it becomes clearer that shared memories are more important than any physical gift. I have developed a deep love for Shutterfly that I lean on quite regularly for photo books, annual calendars, ornaments with photos as well as canvas prints. Here are a few examples that I have enjoyed making and giving.
A year in pictures - my sister and I put together an annual book for our mom as her holiday gift. We compile photos from the year, then print them and write a personal note inside. We’ve been doing this for over 5 years now and it’s a fun project to do together and then gift. We look at all the books again every year when we gather for the holidays.
Photoshoots and associated prints - continuing on the topic of gifting memories, I love gifting a photo session with a photographer. It’s a great way to ensure that the moment in time is captured. Last year, we did one with each set of grandparents around the holidays, which were redeemed gifts that we had given earlier. It is fun to make an effort to find an interesting location, dress up and capture precious family smiles and laughter.
“Missing you” box - One year, for Mother’s day, I made a box of 15 small tokens that I thought my mom would enjoy - a mug with M on it, a nice pen and notepad, a candle that smells good, a small picture frame with her grandkids in it, etc. I wrapped each one with a quote or a message to her. Since we live in different states, I needed to mail it to her and in the package, I included instructions that she should open a gift every time she misses me or is bummed about something so that it would cheer her up. She really valued the time and thought that went into it and she is still using the “M” mug.
Digital photo frame with a commitment to upload photos: Aura frame
Adam’s boss once upon a time gifted an Aura frame to us and I have since gifted it to at least one family member every holiday season. The Aura frame is the first frame that makes it easy to remotely drop photos onto it. So for my non-techy great-grandparents who are always yearning for more photos of great-grandkids, this has been a newly discovered lifeline because I am able to keep up with sending them pictures almost weekly.
Experience gifts for friends and loved ones
In addition to collecting memories, it is also rewarding to gift an opportunity to make memories.
Concert tickets - I took my sister to her first ever concert (Counting Crows with Maroon Five as an opener) - when I asked her what the best gift I ever gave her was, this is the one she mentioned immediately. Adam gifted me Elton John concert tickets with a backstage tour - it was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
Renting a house with friends - for Adam’s 40th birthday, I enjoyed planning and giving the gift of time spent with those he loves. So I took the lead on finding a house that could fit multiple families and just as importantly figured out food and logistics so that we could truly spend time with friends and family with minimal obligations. As time becomes a precious resource, gifts like these become more meaningful. I can’t wait to find another reason to do something similar with family and/or friends.
Gifts for parents with young children
The mental load that parents carry cannot be understated. The amount of logistics that it takes to run a house, perform at work, take care of yourself and keep other humans alive is large. So the gifts that are most useful are different for this group of people. To that end, here are the things I have found helpful and what I have been giving:
Food service - this is a tried and true gift, whether it is a specialized post-pardum food service like Kitchen Doula or a gift card to prepped food like Hello Fresh, I’ve never met a family with young children that doesn’t appreciate or need support in getting food figured out.
A gift card to a restaurant/event + evening of babysitting - the key here is the associated babysitting offer. We continue to receive this gift from our parents - a planned night out while they watch the kids or an opportunity to leave for a few days and live a kid-free life. It never gets old and if you are in the position to give this gift, it is always appreciated.
Back-to-school gift for moms - last year I started celebrating the return to school with my fellow mom tribe. So now I try to do a small token to acknowledge the beginning of a new year. I try to block off the first day of school and deliver these gifts to a handful of moms - if I’m lucky, we are able to sit down for a cup of tea and connect for a few minutes.
My absolute favorite holiday gift/activity that my team and I used to do was take half of the last working day off and go see a just-released movie in the theaters as a team. As we create our post-pandemic world, I hope stuff like that will return as well.
In addition, with a remote workforce, inclusive in-person experiences are hard to create, so here are some of the gifts I have done instead:
Milk Bar gift sampler - it’s festive and easy to order. I also prefer the assortment to just the cookie box but both are great.
Theo chocolate “Sweet Tooth” box - a local Seattle shop makes this gift feel unique especially if you work with people outside of Seattle. Theo also has a tasting box, so if you have time to do an activity, it’s fun to do a virtual tasting class with the team during the holidays.
Teacher and coach gifts - give $$
While experiential gifts are great for much of the giving, I do want to call out that it is a gift of privilege. When I think about gift giving to teachers and coaches that support our children, my research and experience show that money is the best way to show our appreciation due to the reality of the amount that our teachers and coaches get paid.
To that end, we try to gift money paired with a thank you note as much as possible. For coaches who like more sporty gifts, we have gotten gift cards to climbing gyms or to REI and that has been well received as well.
For this group of people, I specifically stay away from gifts that only contain candy, candles, or coffee mugs.
October - Donate!
Since many of our subscribers work at Microsoft, this is your friendly reminder that October is Give month. Microsoft has an incredibly generous match both for money and time donated and there is an extra focus on it during the month of October.
Last year, Adam wrote about our approach to giving and our chosen organizations to support. Whether you contribute time or money, we encourage you to make a contribution to a cause that is important to you in October.